REBECCA URBAN, KYLAR LOUSSIKIAN
March 3, 2017
The Punchbowl Boys High School principal and deputy principal have been dumped amid a backlash over the exclusion of female teachers from taking part in official events at the largely Muslim public school.
The NSW Education Department confirmed yesterday that principal Chris Griffiths and deputy principal Joumana Dennaoiu had been removed from their roles, following an investigation into the school in Sydney’s southwest.
The school’s treatment of its female staff is understood to be one of a multitude of issues that have led to the decision. While the department said it was unaware of any official policy at the school that concerned the role of female teachers, The Australian understands a decision was made last year to exclude them from taking official roles in the Year 12 graduation ceremony and the annual presentation day.
Senior female teachers, who expected to play official roles as they had in the past, were upset by the move, for which no explanation had been provided by management.
Action by the department comes as Education Minister Rob Stokes seeks legal advice over a protocol implemented at the Hurstville Boys School in Sydney’s south that permits students to decline to shake hands with women in accordance with an ancient Islamic hadith.
While Mr Stokes labelled the protocol “sexist” in a radio interview earlier this week, it is understood there are concerns within the government that such a protocol could potentially contravene federal anti-discrimination laws.
Legal advice, when received, is expected to be shared with all principals.
Tensions at Punchbowl have been building since Mr Griffiths took over the top job from Jihad Dib in late 2015. Mr Dib, now the state Labor MP for Lakemba, had a celebrated teaching career and is credited with turning around a school that was once notorious for gangs, drugs and violent crime.
Sources close to the school claim that the broader school community has been gradually shut out.
Large community dinners previously hosted by the school, often with 700 people in attendance, have been scrapped and replaced by small invitation-only events.
In the meantime, former students have been barred from visiting the campus.
Meanwhile, the relationship between the Education Department and the school is understood to have soured, with the school understood to have resisted numerous requests to provide information.
A spokesman for the Education Department said yesterday that Punchbowl Boys High School underwent the department’s regular cyclical auditing process in 2016, which covered a range of internal programs and practices, including supervision of prayer groups.
“As a result of a recent appraisal of Punchbowl Boys High School, there has been a change in the leadership of the school,” said the spokesman
“A new principal and deputy principal will commence work at the school tomorrow.”
He declined to name the new principal.
Mr Stokes, who has been in the role just weeks, has requested regular briefings from the department on the situation.
“Decisive action has been taken by the department to remove the principal and deputy principal from the school,” he told The Australian last night.
“A new principal with great experience has been appointed, effective immediately.”